Where do I start, maybe with an apology in advance to both you and Andy, maybe with a few sentences about peoples perception of taste. I have to think of something to soften my take on the Erwin burger. Actually, its most likely Andy who will be most miffed with me, we have been friends for going on 15-years and I consider him an ultimate foodie resource. He and I were making Chinatown crispy noodle runs and comparing Southside BBQ rib joints long before Al Gore invented the Internet.
I met Seth at Erwin on Friday and, after a couple of drinks and conversation at the bar we were seated. We ordered the onion tart as an appetizer and split a nightly special of oven-roasted sweetbreads and venison with root vegetables. Oh, we also ordered a burger, rare.
I was expecting an Alsatian style onion tart, a la Le Bouchon or La Sardine, but Erwins is more of a pizza made from puff pastry with a topping of blue cheese, caramelized sweet onion and walnuts. Very nice in its own right, I enjoyed it and I think Seth did as well, though he can certainly speak for himself.
Next up were the sweetbreads, venison and root veggies. ~shrug~ The venison, while perfectly cooked with a nice toothsome texture was marred by over use of rosemary, to the point where the meat was actually bitter with the taste. The sweetbreads were flavorful, but, while crisp on the outside, were undercooked on the inside. In my opinion there are few things in this world worse, texturally, then undercooked sweetbreads. And this is from a guy who has eaten goat eyeball tacos at Maxwell Street.
Ok, the burger, a disappointment, to say the least. There was no kim chee in evidence, we asked two people about the kimchee aspect of the burger and both said that at one time the restaurant used kim chee starter, but they were no longer able to get it, but they never used actual kim chee. What they did use was Sriracha sauce and garlic, and not much of either at that.
The meat of the burger, while of absolutely excellent quality, was ground into a paste which, for my taste, is the wrong texture for a hamburger. The burger was dead rare in the middle, exactly as we ordered it, but this may have been a mistake as the only noticeable flavor came from the parts of the outside that were charred from the cooking fire. Also, given the paste like consistency of the meat, the rare underseasoned meat in the center was uninteresting, both texture and flavor wise.
I will say that Erwin from all other perspectives is a wonderful place to be, our waitress was friendly without being familiar. The bartender was social without being intrusive, the host seated us exactly when we were ready to be seated, even without a reservation, and they were on the busy side. The overall ambiance of the room really suites my taste, everything but the food really clicked for me.
In stark contrast to Erwin, both food and ambiance wise, we, in true Chowhound fashion, segued to Lems at 59th and State. Lems was really on top of their game Friday, tender, yet toothsome, meaty spareribs, hot links that were cooked to perfection, you could actually see the red pepper flakes and the outside was perfectly charred. Did I mention the tips, tender with almost no fatty bits, just great slightly chewy flavor.
Sherrie, who with her husband William own Lems, was there and we engaged her in a conversation about the sauce, I owe JBL an apology, when I read his description of Lems sauce included clove, I mentally went BS, but he was right. In my defense, while I have been to Lems any number of times, I have never paid much attention to the sauce, the flavor of Lems meat is way too good to mask with BBQ sauce.
In addition to Seth and myself, Seths girlfriend Kerensa met us, along with one of the people in her theater group, which made for enjoyable conversation as well as ribs.
I fully intend to go back to Erwin, I really liked everything about the place, with the exception of the few dishes out of a nice sounding menu, that I tried. I am willing to give the place not only a second, but, if necessary, a third and fourth chance. That is how friendly and welcoming I found Erwin.
2925 N. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60657
Lem's Bar Bq House
5914 S State St
Chicago, IL 60621
Lem's Bar Bq House
311 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60619